At first sight a chaotic, congested, hot city, but Jaipur abounds with highlights and is definitely worth spending several days to somewhat scratch below the surface. The good news, if you have enough time to explore more of the city than just the Amber Fort, the City Palace and Palace of the Winds (visited by groups in this very order), you will meet very few tourists.
- Amber Fort
Sits on an airy hilltop. When we arrived in the evening, the setting sun gave it a warm yellowish glow. To stroll its maze of buildings, courtyards and garden makes you sigh constantly: it is all so breathtakingly beautiful. It was built at the end of the 16th by the Commander in Chief of Akbar’s army. The view from the top reveals the strategic purpose of the fort, situated at the beginning of the valley that runs into Jaipur. High walls run up and down the surrounding hills and hint at a large defense system during ancient times.
- Hawa Mahal – The Palace Of The Winds
The Palace of the Wind – the name itself gives you goose pimples – lets your imagination run wild. A huge, airy palace, with royal princes and princesses strolling around, their loose silky dresses tousled by the wind. Nope, Hawa Mahal was none of this. It is not even a building proper. It is a façade, a most stunning one though. The ladies of the royal family would snug into one of the many niches and leisurely watch Jaipur’s famous processions, so being shielded from the outside world, without being seen by the masses. They just needed to stroll over from the royal palace right behind it. The structure is most delicate, and the reddish stone adds to its exquisiteness. Like so many buildings in Rajasthan, it was influenced by different cultures, eager to represent the different religions of India…
- City Palace
Built by the ancestors of the current Maharaja two hundred years ago, Mr. Padmanabh Singh resides in his family’s palace, like all the generations before him. His pedigree is impressive. It goes back to the year 944 AD! Some things do change though: large parts of the City Palace are now accessible to the public and that’s how we got to see it. Two large courtyards with airy pavilions in the middle form the centerpiece. The strangest exhibits sit in one the pavilions: two gigantic silver jars, each holding 4000 liters. Their purpose? The Maharaja would not travel to Great Britain for the coronation of King Edward VII without taking holy water from the Ganges. For his trip in 1902, he had the jars made from pure silver and filled with the sacred liquid. Nowadays the family is a lot more worldly and extremely enterprising. It has turned quite a few palaces into 5 star hotels and the City Place into a tourist attraction.
- Strolling The Pink City & Its Bazars
The Old City of Jaipur is a maze of small streets lined with shops where you can shop till you drop… Add old, faded, more or less rundown pink buildings that take on an intensive color before sunset and you have a place where you can stroll for hours. Don’t be mistaken: Jaipur is also a congested, chaotic city, where traffic is close to a stand still, with the accompanying cacophony of horns from all kinds of vehicles, small or big. Yes, it can also be nerve-racking!
- Monkey Palace
The light was already dim when we arrived, along the narrow path up were large groups of monkeys, many fighting each other violently. No so pleasant: we did not even have a stick to push them back if they got too interested in us. Nevertheless, we gave it a try and trotted down the path unharmed. The reward? Charming old temples built into the rock of the narrow valley, often surrounded by pools and yes, monkeys, monkey, monkeys… Small and large ones, big baboons, females with babies on their back occupy the path, the roof, they linger and drink from the pools, they simply have taken over that place. The priests, who live in the crumbling buildings, seem to be the guardians of these creatures. Actually it was the best time to visit around dusk: the atmosphere really gets very groovy!
- Jantar Mantar
One of the five astronomical observatories constructed by Maharajah Jai Singh II and probably the best preserved, “Jantar Mantar” is made of multiple buildings of unique forms, each with a specialized function for astronomical measurement.
- Jaipur’s Many Festivals
Festivals & processions are Jaipur’s trademark. These attract loads of visitors, India and non-Indian alike. So we were rather disappointed when the festival calendar showed none. So big was our surprise when we literally ran into one! Stepping out into the street from a little yard that harbored a vegetable market, we stood face to face with an elephant. With its head beautifully painted, it swayed along the street carrying an elegantly dressed man and a child. Even in India, at least in an urban area, this is not the most common sight! What followed was a two hour long procession of various groups, mainly women in colorful saris (each group had their own color) chanting what could have been “Peace for the World”, girls and boys in school uniforms, and last but not least, clusters of men in traditional white cassocks wearing a bright paper flower on their chests. The parade ended with a band, all dressed in beautiful white uniforms and wearing colorful turbans.
- Changing Perspective
Unfortunately, our Hot Air Balloon ride had to be cancelled, due to terrible weather conditions: heavy rains (yes, in the dry season!), wind, and fog… For early bookers, the one hour flight goes for 200 USD is one of the cheapest you can find, and surely a spectacular place, with Amber Fort in the background… Next time!